A month after an Estonian security officer was kidnapped and forced over the Russian border with scant international response, the Atlantic Council welcomed the Minister of the Interior for Estonia, H.E. Hanno Pavkur, for an off-the-record strategy session on European and Baltic security issues on October 16. With large Russian-speaking populations, many NATO policymakers see the Baltic arena as a potential future target for Russia’s “hybrid warfare” tactics similar to those currently being employed in Ukraine.
The strategy session outlined the challenges for NATO Allies and partners in presenting a united stance in the face of an increasingly-assertive Russia. As relations between NATO and Russia continue to deteriorate, it has become clear that Estonia and its Baltic neighbors may face persistent challenges from Russia due to their proximity to Russia, their NATO membership, and because of their complex histories with the Soviet Union. Throughout the meeting, participants reassured Pavkur that Estonia’s NATO Allies recognize these unique vulnerabilities and are resolved to support the Baltic region however necessary. Even with this reassurance of the transatlantic partnership, though, Estonians are worried that the US is not paying enough attention to the crisis playing out on NATO’s eastern frontier. Although the public’s attention has been diverted from Europe’s East to other global crises such as Ebola and ISIS, many feel that American leadership needs to be cognizant of the challenges facing Estonia and the Baltic region. Additionally, the outlook of Estonia’s relationship with Russia in the short- to medium- term against the backdrop of faltering bilateral high-level communications was taken into consideration. While the threat from conventional attack remains distant, increasing Russian activity near the border and in the internal politics of Estonia were discussed.
Pavkur belongs to the Estonian Reform Party and has been the minister of the interior since March 26, 2014. His distinguished career in Estonian politics includes service as Estonian minister of justice and minister of social affairs, and he is a former member of parliament. He has held various local and national government and graduated from the Tallinn School of Economics, and the Faculty of Law of the University of Tartu.